“Shared” hosting: not dead yet!

Michael PhillipsThere are prognosticators and pundits far and wide who have been shouting from their virtual rooftops for years now that “Shared hosting is dead!” You hear it at all the conferences, on blogs, forums, in the checkout line at the grocery store – you hear it so much that it must be true, right?

Nah, not even close.

You might expect someone like me to say that. But the fact is, shared is still far and away the preferred hosting method, with every one of the world’s largest hosts providing more shared accounts than any other flavor. It’s just not a very cutting edge thing to talk about.

I don’t have anything terribly cutting edge to say about shared hosting myself, honestly. No “TEN GREAT REASONS SHARED HOSTING IS BETTER THAN BEEF STEW,” “TEN AWESOME NAMES FOR FTP SERVERS,” “TEN EXCUSES SHARED HOSTING PROVIDES FOR CALLING IN SICK ON MONDAY” or TEN anything. Instead, I present you with A Ridiculous, Meandering Smattering of a Few Random Thoughts That Will More Than Likely Lead to Nothing Profound (which is coincidentally also the title of my latest children’s book).

What are you talking about?

To begin, I should probably define what I mean when I say “shared hosting.” In the very early days of the web, most sites lived on corporate or university web servers. When the rest of the online world looked around and said, “Hey, I want to do that too!” their options were limited.

So some clever people invented commercial web site hosting; web servers with space for rent to anyone. These commercial web hosts set up web servers and partitioned out the space on those servers to individual sites. That’s still the way most web hosting works, and it’s more or less still the way we do it here at DiscountASP.NET.

As the web grew in popularity, some sites found that they needed more resources than were available on a shared server in order to accommodate their growing audiences. That need gave rise to the dedicated hosting industry. Instead of renting space on a web server, these companies would take a big stack of your money and provide you with an entire web server to do with as you pleased. Fast forward a few years and some even more enterprising folks came up with a way to run several separate web servers on one physical machine, they called these Virtual Private Servers.

While all this was going on, the “traditional” shared hosts continued to thrive and multiply, because for most people’s sites, they were (and still are) sufficient. So when I say “shared hosting,” I’m talking about traditional shared servers; web servers partitioned to accommodate individual sites.

So with that bit of probably-obvious-to-you information out of the way, here we go.

Random thought #1:
Cloud is awesome. There are a lot of cool things that can be done with it (just don’t ask most hosts to define “cloud” right now, because they all have different definitions).

But cloud will not replace, usurp or otherwise murder shared hosting. Anyone who tells you that a cloud service is fundamentally different than shared service is splitting hairs. Unless your site is on a dedicated server, you are using shared hosting. Your VPS is not a dedicated server. It lives on a physical server that hosts other VPSes. Maybe a whole lot of them.

Might some cloud technologies have benefits over traditional shared hosting? Absolutely! But at their core, they are still shared hosting. The sooner you come to grips with that, the better you’ll feel. About everything.

Random thought #2:
The unix/linux platform hasn’t been “cutting edge” or exciting for well over a decade. Or two. Yet many, many companies still sell shared *nix hosting successfully. Which would seem to be proof that you don’t have to re-invent yourself every six months to be of value to people. That’s a shocking fact, I know, but it’s something we’re just going to have to try to make peace with.

Random thought #3:
Ten years ago all of the world’s camera makers could have thrown their hands up and said, “Well, everyone’s phone has a camera now, we give up!” And actually, some of them essentially did just that.

But look around, plenty of people still buy cameras. In fact, having a camera available in your pocket all the time has created a new awareness of, and resurgence in, traditional film photography among the hip and the youthful (and wannabe hip and youthful) all over the world.

That’s partly a backlash against the inevitable complication of all things digital, but it can also be seen as a return to simplicity and function. So you could say (well, I’m saying) that shared hosting is the film photography of the hosting ecosystem. It’s simple, classic and frankly, it’s just cool. Admit it. You still love it. It’s the Holga camera of web hosting platforms. Full of soul and weird shadows.

Random thought #4:
Shared will never become extinct because regular people will always need it. You there — I see you with your wildly popular, million member web site that has tremendous resource requirements that fluctuate depending on how many television talk shows you appear on in a given week. You are not regular people. I’m not talking to you.

Random thought #5:
Some folks are fond of tossing around little nuggets of wisdom such as, “Hosting is just a commodity now, you’re chasing pennies, there’s no meat left on that bone.” Well, cable and satellite television are commodities too, but I don’t have to tell you that some of those providers are much better than others, and worth paying more money for, because they provide a more reliable, trouble-free experience.

Companies sell “commodities” as luxuries all the time. Cars are commodities, watches, clothes, electronic technology – and all of them have “high end” brands that return more to the consumer either through value, quality or simply prestige. You can bet if there was a “premium” electric company in your area, some of your neighbors would use it and willingly pay more for the same electricity you get from your regular old electric utility.

But it’s true that commodity hosting and premium hosting do exist, and the experiences they provide are quite different. DiscountASP.NET provides premium hosting, where quality of service is paramount. That approach is typically in direct opposition to a commodity host, such as — oh, I shouldn’t name names…but I will — GoDaddy, that is more about the numbers and less about the needs of actual people. I only know that because we get new customers every day who are refugees from commodity hosts like GoDaddy, and they tell us what they disliked about those hosts and what they like about us.

So you could say that the demise of traditional shared has been greatly exaggerated.

I think there will always be a place for shared hosting. Even if we don’t put a catchy new name onto it and sell it back to you as something different when it’s really not. As far as I can see into the crystal ball future of DiscountASP.NET, we will offer shared hosting.

Might we also offer something else in the future, something more cutting-edge? I think it’s safe to say that we will, only because it’s in our nature to provide our users with as much cool stuff as we can conjure up.

But I also think it’s safe to say that we’ll always have users who want a traditional shared account, for a lot of different reasons. And we’ll always be here to provide it.

2 thoughts on ““Shared” hosting: not dead yet!

  1. I completely agree with you that shared hosting is not dead but there are things that shared hosting providers (including DiscountASP) could do better. A few things come to mind:

    -automatic full backup of the SQL database. I understand that there is an API for this but why isn’t it possible to simply tick a box in the control panel to say that you want your database to be fully backup, say, every day (and keep the last 5 backups for example)? That could be a paid option and would make it so much easier. Between using an API and ticking a box in the control panel I know which option I prefer. Amazon does this with SQL server for example (http://aws.amazon.com/rds/sqlserver)

    -SMTP server: we are encouraged to be very careful when we send mails (ie making sure we don’t spam) but DiscountASP doesn’t do anything to help with this. Amazon SES on the contrary sends a notification (it pings a URL) everytime an email (sent through their SMTP server) bounces back. This way it’s extremely easy to update my database automatically to flag the email addresses which don’t exist anymore so that I don’t try to email them again in the future. With DiscountASP smtp server (localhost), if an email bounces back I just receive the bounced email and, well, that’s it so it’s very difficult to automate this task. Switching to Amazon SES smtp server from DiscountASP smtp server was a 5 seconds job (I just had to replace ‘localhost’ by the Amazon smtp sever name in my config file). Again, it could be a paid option (amazon charges $0.001/1,000 emails sent) but for me it was a no brainer. I would prefer to give my money to DiscountAsp but given that you don’t offer this service…

    -CDN: it’s very important for websites to be very responsive and returning static content (eg pictures) can slow down the rendering of a web page. To improve the performance of my website I now use a CDN. Again, I would have prefered to give my money to DiscountASP but given that you don’t offer this service I had no choice but to look at other providers (MaxCDN, Amazon CloudFront, etc). In the end I decided to go for Amazon CloudFront.

    I understand that implementing a CDN can be difficult (as you would need servers all over the world) but implementing an automatic daily backup of the database simply by ticking a box in the control panel or a better smtp server with notifications when an email bounces back is completely doable by DiscountASP.

    I’m not going to say that it breaks my heart to give my money to Amazon but I’d rather give it to you if you offered those services.



    1. Anthony,

      I appreciate your comments, and I’m glad you want to spend your hosting dollars with us. 🙂

      We do automated database backup, but those backups aren’t exposed to users. As you mentioned, we built an API to assist with backups and customers have developed automation plans around that API (there are posts about it in the forum).

      For your other “be more like Amazon” suggestions, stay tuned. There are a few changes afoot that we can’t really talk about yet.

      But comparing us to Amazon kind of makes the point for shared hosting. The majority of commercial hosting users don’t need the flexibility or power of the million different Amazon offerings (nor would they feel compelled to try to decipher them). Those are the people who will always need shared hosting.

      But again, we haven’t forsaken or forgotten about those of you who do need more power and flexibility. Things are happening over here, as they always are, and you’ll see the results in the near future.

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